Many sales managers in the home improvement business cross the fine line between sales and management every day. Take Jake Jacobson, vice president of sales for Premier Window & Building, of Vienna, Va., and Owings Mills, Md., and sales manager for the company's Maryland location. He's in the office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. He also runs appointments three days a week and on Saturdays. Or Andrew Sallee, owner of Tri State Siding & Windows, in Davenport, Iowa, who acts as his own sales manager while typically selling some $600,000 of business a year.

These sales managers say the “street cred” they earn with their sales teams by selling in the field is more important than their own sales totals. “In today's business, if you're behind the windshield like the salesmen, they tend to appreciate you more,” Jacobson says.

STAY IN TOUCH To Jacobson, who manages 13 reps and sells $1 million a year, there are several important benefits to being a selling sales manager. “You understand product knowledge better because you stay in close touch with the products,” he says. In addition, running leads ensures he remains familiar with the customer, specific conditions in communities and neighborhoods, and multistep sales dynamics. Selling, Jacobson says, lets managers know “what competitors are selling and how much they're selling it for.” It also makes both the company and the selling sales manager more money.

Sallee sees similar advantages. “If I'm just sitting back in an office, how can I tell them they aren't doing their jobs right or that they aren't closing enough deals?” he asks. Sure, he keeps selling because “that's where a good portion of my income comes from,” and because, Sallee says, he enjoys it. But just as important is that, “the more business I do, the more business my salesmen do,” he explains. “The salesmen like to see me selling. They like to compete with me and beat the boss, and I want them to beat me.”

ONLY WHEN STRETCHED At Sun City Replacement Windows/Renewal by Andersen, in Las Vegas and Phoenix, sales managers run leads only “if we get overloaded here and there,” explains Shawn Toth, general manager at the Las Vegas operation. Generally, “our sales reps can cover the amount of leads we have. [Managers] run leads with the reps for training purposes.”

Similarly, Jeffrey Fick, sales manager of The Fick Bros. Roofing & Exterior Remodeling Co., in Baltimore, will ride with salesmen, but he doesn't run his own leads. Fick spent a lot of time in the field when the company was primarily commercial, “when it was more being a bidder than a salesman,” but hasn't run leads as sales manager. Instead, he says, he concentrates on building the company's sales systems, which include automating preparation of very detailed proposals and “perfecting our estimating system.” Besides, Fick says, he's had a knee and a hip replaced “and it's difficult for me to climb around on those roofs.”